Thursday, 30 April 2015

Luise Marion Frenkel: Procedural similarities between fourth and fifth-century Christian synods and the Roman Senates: myth, politics or cultural identity?

Recent research on the late-antique textual representation of unanimous collective decision-making shows that the similar patterns in synodical and senatorial proceedings were not a (deliberate) emulation or imposition of practices of the Senate Houses (in Rome or Constantinople). Rather, both exemplify the communication strategies that allowed large-scale demonstrations of assent or dissent to be recorded, re-interpreted and used to support, for example, an intended self-representation of Senate, synods and their relation to imperial identity.

General models of the proceedings were extrapolated from a body of select sources taken as a cohesive whole by scholars working, for example, on Canon Law, Reichssynoden, episcopal jurisprudence and a Reichskirche assimilated into the empire since Constantine. However, they do not account for the manifold and changeable character of early Christian synods, so-called Church Councils or sessions in the Senate Houses. The current picture of the regional and diachronic social variations, of the working of religious and administrative bodies, and especially of the classical discursive conventions and polemic or apologetic character of the proceedings tempers the models of Councils and Senates as extraordinary decision-making bodies that followed well-established traditions. The templates are scholarly constructs, which rely on anachronistic or timeless concepts such as democracy, law codes, orthodoxy, papacy and paganism in the broad context of the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. The paper argues that the recurring patterns in the proceedings reflect the late-antique argumentative use of supposed verbatim accounts rather than a genuine similarity between the events recorded.

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